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Tuesday, May 24, 2016
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'Core group' keeps Occupy Tampa going

TAMPA - The numbers didn't add up to what they were one year ago. That's when Occupy Tampa occupied Lykes Gaslight Square in downtown Tampa amid a growing national distrust of government, financial institutions and the rich. But on Monday, only a handful of the faithful 99 percent showed up to commemorate the birth of the local movement and to reaffirm its continued existence, even though no one is occupying anything nowadays. John Thomas of Tampa said more people were expected later in the day, flashing protest signs along Ashley Drive at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. He sat on the grass and made out the first protest sign: "Due to recent budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off." Thomas said he was among the first to take part in the movement in Tampa last year.
"All my life — and I'm 40 now, ever since I was 20 — I have felt like there was a lot of injustice in this world, on the streets." He said the group "still has a core group of dedicated people," many of whom keep up with Occupy happenings via social media. He said Occupy Tampa is actively fighting mortgage foreclosures, feeding the homeless and rallying against the 1 percent. Has the movement lost some of its momentum from a year ago? "I don't think so," he said. "There have been periods when we suffered from lulls," but he pointed to ongoing Occupy protests in Europe that are reinvigorating demonstrators here. The movement remains alive, he said, and has accomplished some goals, like raising awareness around the globe about social injustice and class inequalities. "It's caused a global conversation," said the disc jockey and computer tech. Since its inception, Occupy Tampa has evolved numerous times. Its tumultuous beginnings were marked by the tenacity of a few who camped and protested downtown for months, sometimes getting arrested, before moving to the less visible Voice of Freedom Park. The group organized marches and demonstrations during the Republican National Convention in August, but last month mostly disappeared after being threatened with eviction from the privately owned park in West Tampa. One of those who came out to Monday's event was a Plant City man known as Crash. At 60, he is a throwback to the protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With long gray hair falling in two tight braids across his shoulders, Crash sat on an old office chair, holding a stogie-sized, burning bundle of sage that sent an unusual aroma into the trees. Two nearby homeless men asked if they could take a hit. "It's sage," Crash said. The Plant City man wouldn't give his real name but said he also was in the park one year ago when the Occupy Tampa movement lurched into being. "We felt pretty much it was a calling," he said, "a gathering. We wanted to come out and see what everybody else was all about. It's still a strong idea. "It's a global movement, a peace movement, a justice movement," he said. "We are in the now."

kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760